Never had Roger Federer lost in the first round of the Australian Open, an event where he regularly has reached the semifinals in recent years despite less sparkling performances at the other majors. All the same, the Swiss superstar had won in Melbourne only once since 2007, so he should bring plenty of appetite to this year’s quest.
Across from Federer stood unassuming Frenchman Benoit Paire, who has lurked around the fringes of the top 50 occasionally without delivering a signature breakthrough. The world #2 wasted no time in asserting his authority by breaking Paire in the opening game, although an artfully angled pass handed the Frenchman two break points immediately. Always at its most resilient in those situations, Federer’s serve dug him out of trouble and kept Paire off balance from the outset of the points. As he often does against overmatched opponents (e.g., the vast majority of the ATP), the Swiss ventured to the net consistently and attempted to shorten the points while accepting greater risks. That tactic not only conserved his energy but earned him an additional break late in the set as he denied Paire time to craft his usual improvisations.
In a 25-minute first set, nothing that the underdog did could trouble the favorite. Paire found his footing early in the second set, as well as a steadier first serve, but still could not crack the code of Federer’s serve. That weapon continued to fire at a high percentage, and the second seed’s excellent success rate on those points compensated for his average results on second serve. In the third game, a series of explosive cross-court forehands opened the door for Federer again, through which he strolled with the aid of some careless shot-making from Paire. The profligate Frenchman continued to spray errors from his groundstrokes, lacking the focus that he needed to mount a serious challenge. Even his clenched fists felt forced, feigned episodes of exhortation. Federer avoided all pressure as he cruised to a two-set lead with just six games lost and no real threats encountered.
The trend continued early in the third, when Federer claimed the lead with an opening break in the same way that he had to start the match. Undone by a double fault on break point, Paire showed little inclination to mount any further resistance thereafter. Nor did Federer seem inclined to unduly exert himself, letting the games slide past uneventfully en route to a routine 6-2 6-4 6-1 victory.
Like Sharapova on Rod Laver Arena a day before, the former Australian Open champion had revealed few signs of rust from his offseason once he moved past his first service game. With more familiar names like Davydenko and Tomic directly ahead, Federer enjoyed the sort of tranquil afternoon that will leave him fully rested for those greater challenges.